Vaccine Update from the Post Surgeon

By Robert Lehman, M.D., Post 3063 Surgeon

There are a lot of unknowns regarding getting your vaccination for SAR2 (Covid19). As physician and public health officer, I read and troll for updates at least twice a day, and so I’m probably more informed than most, but there are still answers I do not have.

Two vaccines are approved and somewhat available now. These are both a new type of vaccine that uses a messenger RNA (m-RNA) technique. One of these is by Pfizer and has to be kept at minus 70 degrees. Because of this, it will likely only be available to hospitals. Normal freezers do not get anywhere near that cold. The second is from Moderna, and although it also needs to be kept frozen, it could be stored in commercial freezers that pharmacies, labs, and large medical groups might have. One of these vaccines will need a second shot in 3 weeks; the other needs a second shot in 4 weeks.

How the vaccines are distributed and the “rules” for who gets the vaccine are directed by individual states. Right now, only health workers, first responders, patients in long-term care facilities, and some others are being vaccinated. Essentially people will be specifically invited to have the vaccinations. Don’t call your doctor, go to the VA, or go to a hospital asking for the vaccine. They don’t have it to give you.

The third vaccine is from Astra-Zeneca – also known as the Oxford vaccine – and will likely be approved before this is read. It does not need to be kept frozen and will probably become the most commonly used vaccine in the world because of that. I think this will only be one shot, but until the vaccine is submitted and approved, I do not know that for sure at this time. This vaccine is using a technique that has been used for other vaccines in the past.

Cost: the answers on this are vague. In short, the vaccines were paid for by the US and will be provided for free. However, the people giving the vaccine shots are allowed to charge for that service. It isn’t clear what that will mean. It “might be free (or your insurance billed) if you get it at Walgreens or CVS, but there “might” be a charge if you get it from your doctor’s office. There is simply no word on what will happen in that regard.

Availability: As I write this, the vaccine is being given by hospitals to their staff and selected others. CVS and Walgreens will start vaccinating nursing homes after Christmas. It is expected (but not guaranteed) that once that has been done, Walgreens/CVS will open up vaccinations at their stores. Physician offices might also have vaccines once the higher risk patients have been treated. But right now, the State is only releasing the plan for the ones being vaccinated now. They have not announced who will be vaccinated next. There are lobbying efforts all over the place: teachers, grocery workers, delivery drivers, those over 65 or with chronic illness, etc. There are reasonable arguments for all of those, but if a decision has been reached, it has not been released. I hate to say this, but “stay tuned”.

What vaccine should you get? THE FIRST ONE OFFERED TO YOU!

It will be very clear on local TV news and newspapers when the vaccine is available to specific groups of people. The most common reports (or guesses) is that the vaccine will not be available to the normal public until roughly April.

Keep in mind – PLEASE – (1) the vaccine does not include children, (2) the vaccine takes roughly a month to be effective, (3) the vaccine DOES NOT PREVENT getting infected or spreading the virus to others — it hopefully will prevent becoming seriously ill and dying from the virus. Even after being vaccinated, you could still become infected from your children or a coworker and could still spread it to others without having any symptoms. Social distancing, avoiding gatherings, and ALWAYS wearing a mask will be necessary for a long time yet — probably at least next summer or even longer.

LASTLY, there is some evidence that those who become infected with Covid have less severe symptoms if they were vaccinated for the annual flu. If you haven’t had your flu shot this year, go get it! If you are over 65 or have chronic diseases, then you need the high dose flu vaccine rather than the normal flu shot. Your doctor or the pharmacy knows what this means; just remind them of your age or chronic medical condition you might have.

Stay safe out there.